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ZoomInfo Search Engine Makes Business Information Free

The business-oriented semantic search service, tailored for finding information about companies and their employees, is expanding its reach to any Internet user.

With $12 million in sales last year and some 1600 corporate clients -- including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Oracle, PepsiCo and about 100 of the Fortune 500 -- business information company ZoomInfo has decided to provide free access to most of what it had been charging for.

On Monday, plans to offer a newly improved business-oriented semantic search service, tailored for finding information about companies and their employees, to any Internet user under an advertisement-supported model.

"We believe that this is disruptive to the business information world," said Russell Glass, VP of products and marketing for ZoomInfo.

Semantic search refers to search that understands, to some degree, the meaning of words and can return better results because of that understanding.

A search engine like Google, faced with a query like "data aging" returns results that have to do with the IT meaning of the terms, the demographic meaning of the terms, and the Star Trek meaning of the terms.

ZoomInfo actually would do even worse with that specific query, but that's because it is tuned to extract information about people and companies.

Faced with a query about a person or an organization, ZoomInfo returns a focused set of results from online sources -- blogs, corporate Web sites, press releases, electronic news services, SEC filings and other sites. Because it has a better sense of how proper names in disparate documents are related, ZoomInfo presents a more useful set of results for business-oriented queries than a general search engine like Google. The company sells this insight to corporate clients, much as does Hoovers, another business information provider.

But Hoovers, said Glass, assembles much of its information manually, in contrast to the semantic algorithms ZoomInfo uses. As a consequence, ZoomInfo lists information about some 3.5 to 4 million companies, in contrast to the 50 to 100 thousand companies covered by Hoovers, according to Glass.

ZoomInfo includes data on some 35 million people, significantly more than the handful of executives Hoovers profiles per company. The completeness of that data, however, leaves something to be desired. Suffice to say that "googling" someone is likely to provide a more complete picture (buried in a lot of useless results) of someone active on the Internet than "zoominfoing."

ZoomInfo shines for focused company and job searches, but not so much for queries outside its areas of expertise. For example, a search for the keywords "DVD mastering companies" returned no results. Google, despite its less refined sense of semantics, managed to return 7 relevant links out of 10 on the first page of search results (not counting the ads).

This may become less of an issue in a month or so. That when ZoomInfo expects to roll out a brand new system architecture that can scale better.

Right now, Glass said, ZoomInfo can only crawl about a billion pages and manage about 80 crawlers at once. The new system will remove that ceiling and be much more scalable, allowing servers to be added as needed. The crawlers will also become change-aware. Currently, they crawl pages and index the information regardless of whether it has changed or not.

"It's going to make a huge difference," said Glass.

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